Nintendad

[Review] Ultrawings – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Bit Planet Games, LLC
  • Publisher: Bit Planet Games
  • Release date: 28/03/2019
  • Price: $19.99/ £14.99

Eyes to the Sky

I love the Pilotwings series. The feeling of flying a small plane and performing daring twists and turns to meet your objectives and nail that final landing. I played all three of extensively, even though I was not a master pilot. So, when it came time to dive into Ultrawings, I was thrilled. There hasn’t been a mainline Pilotwings game since Resort on the 3DS. The potential this game held was limitless. Thus, began my adventures into the open world of Ultrawings.

Earning your Wings

The concept of Ultrawings is simple. You are a fledgling pilot who must earn a license to fly. The first test involves taking off in the Ultralight, a very beginning friendly aircraft. Once you take off, you must stay airborne until the designated time limit. The missions get slightly more challenging, such as flying through rings around the island and eventually landing. After your exam is over, you now have access to your first of four planes and the world is finally opened to you.

Skies the Limit

At this point, you can freely fly around the world to your hearts content if you have enough fuel in the tank, or you can begin exploring the many jobs (aka missions) available to you. The available missions are based on two criteria, your planes and the island you’re on. The beginning island will give you access to only a few missions, but once you work your way up the ladder, a promotion is available. Well, it’s more of the next step of progression, as the game instructs you to fly to the neighboring island and buy access to the runway. This is where my problems began with Ultrawings.

There is not an in-game map and because of this, I found myself flying towards the wrong island. I didn’t realize that the next stop on my journey to be a top-notch pilot was just around the corner, but I accidently chose to fly for five minutes to reach a more challenging area. This game does not hold your hands. I appreciate that about it, and it helped me become a better pilot quicker as more challenging tasks were thrown at me.

Wings of Opportunity

Speaking of challenges, there are a multitude of different mission types to keep you busy while saving up to unlock more planes and airports. First, you have Ring Rush. This involves going through a set of bullseye rings in which the center of the ring gives you the most points. Then came the Landing challenges. These missions turned out to be quite fun! The goal here is to land your aircraft as close to the center of the ring as possible without crashing. Next are the Course missions, which is like Ring Rush, but requires you to fly through smaller rings, usually in a set order and then land your plane in a designated area.

Balloon Pop and Balloon Course are two of the more unique offerings as they allow the use of a pistol in the Ultralight, or a mounted gun on the other planes to pop balloons to get a high score. Balloon Course adds another layer of complexity as you must fly through the ring course to make the balloons appear. Race missions are just like they sound, race other pilots to the finish line while also hitting the check point rings. Lastly, we have the Photo missions, which involve either using your planes built-in camera or the Ultralight’s tablet to snag photos of nearby landmarks.

Going for the Gold

After you finish a mission you are graded with a bronze, silver or gold medal. Each awards a cash prize, with gold awarding the most. And the game does not shy away from pushing you to retry missions if you didn’t get a first-place finish. My favorite line was heard when I received my first silver medal, “Silver, that’s not bad. Bronze kinda sucked, but Gold, that’s better.” I found this dialog to be humorous, but if you keep missing the mark on the gold medal, it can get tiresome.

Something else I discovered is that the missions tend to have difficulty spikes that seem downright cruel. One mission may feel like a walk in the park, while the very next mission in a set will require you to make no mistakes, period. I found myself thinking, “This is a flight simulator, how can it be this hard?” Time, practice and ultimately mastering the unique abilities of each plane will lead to victory, or at least a bronze.

Just Wing It

There are four different planes available once discovered while traversing the game’s four main islands. The Ultralight is a small, run of the mill plane that is perfect for beginnings. Its not too fast, but it handles well and is designed for teaching the basics. The rocket powered glider became my favorite plane. This bad boy was tricky to learn as it features rocket bursts to power your plane. No throttle, just instant speed! The Gee Racer was the next plane I met and sadly my least favorite.

While using the Racer, I discovered a rather large slowdown problem. While doing a particularly challenging Ring Rush mission on the Boesenburg Farm, I noticed my plane began to fly sluggishly and started to shake. I then saw that the surrounding trees were also shaking. I exited the game and restarted it, and everything was fine. While I continued to play the level and hitting retry if I didn’t get the gold, the game started to seize up. This happened quite a few times until I eventually gave up on the gold.

The View from Up There

I really enjoyed the art style that Bit Planet Games chose. The simple design allows for a surprising number of moving pieces. While in free flight mode, I noticed another plane flying in the distance and eventually passed it. A small boat was heading towards a dock of one island and the farm island had a few cars passing to and fro. This bit of detail drove my immersion in, but it wasn’t all good. Aside from the issues I ran into earlier, I found more glitches.

Long periods of play tend to make the background music just disappear, to the point that I really was in shock when I would restart the game and hear the upbeat background tunes. Another painful glitch on Paradise Island had be crash land before the mission started. This happened six times before finally allowing me to start the mission. And when it did load correctly, my plane flipped nose up before allowing me to start the engines.

Final Thoughts

Ultrawings proved to be a very divisive game. It had great ideas and some good gameplay that was ultimately troubled by glitches and slowdown. On the plus side, most of those glitches did not appear when playing the game in short burst, but mostly rearing their ugly heads in long periods of gaming. For those wanting a flight simulator to play at a leisurely pace, Ultrawings does have a lot to offer. But, if you are expecting the second coming of Pilotwings, you may want to sit this one out.

Pros

  • Large open world
  • Extensive amount of content
  • Planes feel distinct

Cons

  • No overworld map
  • Glitches and slowdown for long gaming sessions
  • Difficulty spikes

Verdict

Verdict
Ultrawings is a sometimes-fun flight simulator that tries, but ultimately stays in Pilotwings shadow.
3/5

Ultrawings is a sometimes-fun flight simulator that tries, but ultimately stays in Pilotwings shadow.

3/5

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